Houston Texas co-owner Javier Loya talks to Boardroom about diversity efforts at the NFL level, all the way down to his team’s gameday experience.
When the NFL granted Houston an expansion team in 2002, a young executive named Javier Loya became one of the club’s first 10 investors. In addition to also being CEO and chairman of OTC Global Holdings, Loya became the first Hispanic owner in NFL history.
Loya remains a Texans limited partner 21 years later. Today, he’s also one of the league’s leading voices and influences in its ongoing pursuit of greater diversity. As part of the NFL’s diversity committee, the Columbia graduate is part of a group that recommends DEI policies to league ownership.
“Our big focus has been on the coaching side,” the 54-year-old Loya said. “And certainly getting minorities opportunities to become head coaches.“
Of the 32 NFL head coaches, only three are Black. Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel is biracial, Jets coach Robert Saleh is Lebanese-American, and Commanders coach Ron Rivera is Latino. That’s even with a 2020 addition to the league’s Rooney Rule for interviewing minority candidates that offered draft compensation to teams who lose minorities on staff to other teams as head coach or general manager. Or a 2022 addition that requires every team to have a woman or member of an ethnic or racial minority on staff as an offensive assistant coach.
Despite the criticism the Rooney Rule faces on a yearly basis, Loya thinks it’s been particularly successful in terms of providing new opportunities to minority leaders on the administrative side, most visibly in front offices.
“But the area that unfortunately we get judged by is the amount of head coaches and judged by the handful of jobs that come up every year,” he said. “Now, certainly that was our goal when we started the committee. And certainly it continues to be a challenge for us, but I think you’re starting to see headway. If you peel back the layers, you’ll see that we’ve got a record number of defensive coordinators and we’ve got a pipeline of really talented minority coaches that will soon become our head coaches.”
Houston hired DeMeco Ryans as its new head coach for the 2023 season — the third straight year in which the team has hired a Black head coach — after David Culley and Lovie Smith were each fired after one season on the job. The shortness of those tenures isn’t something Loya thinks is damaging to minority coaches trying to break through this undeniable barrier that exists within the league.
“At the end of the day, this is still a meritocracy,” he said. “We’re still looking for the absolute best coaches, and then for that matter, the coaches that fit best the Houston Texans. As candidates, I don’t think we’ve ever had a situation where someone refused to interview with us.”
Loya is excited about the Ryans hire, while Culley and Smith were the best fits at the time, he said. But teams evolve and circumstances change. And a significant change that will likely occur in 2023 that will fundamentally impact DEI in the United States is the Supreme Court’s forthcoming ruling that could ban affirmative action.
While certain aspects of quotas in society may change, Loya doesn’t think such a ruling would alter the Rooney Rule. The current Rooney Rule adheres to its own guidelines and best practices as they evolve.
“All we’re trying to do is help identify and recruit talented coaches first, and certainly if they’re minority, help develop that talent,” Loya said. “Because at the end of the day, that’s just good business. We know and understand the makeup of our league, and we think it’s important that players can communicate with their coaches and understand their backgrounds and their cultures, and for that matter, our ticket base, our season ticket holders, our fans.”
Like the racial makeup of Houston, America is gradually becoming a majority-minority country. Loya’s general involvement with the Texans as a limited partner is to be a sounding board for the rest of the ownership group and the team’s marketing department. Each city and franchise has its own unique characteristics, and a gameday experience in and around NRG Stadium reflects H-Town.
DJs play Latin music and meringue in addition to hip-hop. Mariachi bands will play as well, in addition to staples and elements you can see all over the American South.
“It’s really all based around welcoming our fan base so that when they go to games,” Loya said, “they feel comfortable that there’s people that sound, look and, can speak to them, and makes them feel like a fan and part of the Houston Texans family.”
The NFL is driving more programs and initiatives toward the Latin population, whether that’s Spanish language broadcasts, NFL games in Mexico City, youth education programs like flag football, or technology, like streaming or ease of access to information.
“The reality is the Latino population is a young, growing population, so we need to figure out ways to continue to communicate to them,” Loya said. “It’s a fluid situation as technology changes, but it’s about reaching your fan base. And as it changes and evolves, it also becomes how to message correctly. And that message is ‘Hey, we’re inclusive. We’re about diversity and this is your sport. Come join us.'”
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